DECATUR — Parker Springfield was first in line for a visit with Santa on Saturday morning at the Salvation Army in Decatur.
“But I want to give him a present,” she said, still excited after their talk. “I would give him a Christmas shirt.”
The event organizers wanted to provide a unique St. Nick for Decatur children of all backgrounds; therefore, they invited Cocoa Santa to greet local families.
A week before Cocoa Santa’s visit, Patrice Springfield showed her 7-year-old daughter an advertisement for the event. “The first thing she said was, ‘He looks like me,’” Springfield said. “She’s been so excited.”
Kevin Nolan has spent nearly a decade representing a Black version of the man dressed in the famous red Santa Claus suit. He donned the name Cocoa Santa to clarify the image. “It just makes things a little bit clearer,” he said. “And just to show them a little bit of diversity in the room, to have a little bit of representation out there.”
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The only alteration Nolan makes to his outfit is the dusting of white to his beard. “But every year I use less color,” he said.
Although Santa Claus is 1,751 years old, Nolan is only 47 years old. He knows Santa’s real age because of his education and experience.
“I invested in Santa school, I have professional mentors, professional suits,” Nolan said. “There’s a lot of background for Santa. It’s more than just ‘Ho, ho, ho-ing’.”
The opportunity to spend time with children of all ages is what Nolan enjoys the most, he said.
“Some of them are often shocked to see me, but a pleasant shock,” he said about the reactions.
Santa has had to answer a few interesting questions, such as the explanation of why he looks different than last year.
“I have a lot of helpers out there,” Nolan says to the kids. “Plus, I decided to come here a little bit different, because I think you need to see me like this this year.”
Based in St. Louis, Nolan drives his red Jeep decked out with large candy canes, lights and a reindeer on top. “I sometimes just wave to the passersby,” he said.
The elves helping out for Cocoa Santa’s visit included members of the Young Leaders In Action. They helped children after their visit with Cocoa Santa in selecting a cupcake decorated by co-sponsor SugaFix Bakery.
According to Temethia Joyner, program facilitator, organizing the volunteers was not difficult.
“They are always excited to join anytime, especially when it involves children in our community,” she said.
YLIA is a youth program initiated by the Community Foundation of Macon County, one of the event sponsors. Natalie Beck, the foundation’s president, was searching for a diverse Santa when she found Cocoa Santa.
“I wanted a professional,” she said. “And we hope this is an annual tradition.”